Abraham Almonte Was Only Okay

Among the main contributors for the Tribe this season, a few are missing from the postseason roster. Carlos Carrasco is out for the entirety of the playoffs with a broken finger, while Danny Salazar may return in a limited role, possibly in the upcoming ALCS, after suffering a forearm strain last month.

One player who isn’t missing time because of injury is outfielder Abraham Almonte. He was a part of the team’s second half run last year after being acquired in a deadline deal. However, after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug at the start of spring training, he was suspended for the first 80 games of this season. Per a new MLB rule, that meant he could not be a part of the team’s post-season roster.

Right off the bat, Tribe manager Terry Francona gave Almonte the chance to play every day. And he ran with it. Over his first 75 plate appearances, he was 2% worse than league average, according to wRC+, with a score of 98. He had a triple slash line of .286/.307/.457. Almonte had worked hard to rejoin the club and his hard work was paying off.

As he told Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel in September, “Every time I have the opportunity to play, I have to do everything I can to help my team. I have learned the past year that this is about winning, no matter how you do personally.”

After the initial hot start, Almonte’s performance suffered. In his final 119 plate appearances, he posted a wRC+ of 69 (31% below league average) and had an OBP of only .286. He finished the year with a slash of .264/.294/.401 and a wRC+ of 80, meaning he was 20% worse than the league average hitter.

Almonte suffered because he struck out way too much and never walked. His strikeout rate of 21.6% was sixth highest on the team while his 4.1% walk rate was second-lowest. Even worse, Almonte’s walk-to-strikeout ratio was second-lowest on the team.

Trouble with plate discipline is not a new problem for the 27-year-old Almonte. He’s never had a season with a strikeout rate of less than 20%. The low number of walks was a career worst for him, though he’s never been over 8% in his career.

Most of the fault lies with Almonte’s career-high chase percentage. He swung at almost a third of the pitches he saw outside of the zone, while also swinging at a career high 76% of pitches in the strike zone. More often than not, Almonte was swinging at a pitch, whether it was outside the zone or inside it. Luckily for both Almonte and the Tribe, plate discipline is something that can be improved in the off-season.

One of the likely reasons for his high swinging percentage was the pressure to perform. As Cleveland’s most reviled writer (Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes) put it back in August, “The postseason is now for Abraham Almonte.” Almonte put pressure on himself to perform as well as he could every game because it was one game closer to being his last of the season. He also knew that the team needed to start planning to play without him in their lineup, so he was never sure when his playing time would get cut. And when a player feels like their playing time is threatened, they put even more pressure on themselves to perform at their best.

As it turned out, September was the time of lessened playing time for Almonte. After the team traded for Coco Crisp in late August, the writing was on the wall. Almonte started in only 13 of the team’s final 29 games in September and October, notching just 61 plate appearances. Not surprisingly, that was his worst month.

The one silver lining for Almonte fans, if there still are any left, is that he provided Francona with versatility in his lineup construction. As a switch-hitter who could play both corner outfield spots, he could be used in a lot of situations. When he wasn’t starting, he was used as a pinch-hitter against pitchers of either handedness, and he was used as a defensive sub when necessary.

Speaking of defense, Almonte was actually decent in the outfield for the Tribe. Inside Edge tracks every hit ball and categorizes them into buckets of difficulty. Almonte made 97.4% of the likely (made 60-90% of the time) and routine (made 90-100% of the time) plays on balls hit his way this season. Among Tribe players with at least 400 innings in the outfield, Almonte ranks first in both advanced fielding stats, defensive runs saved and UZR/150.

Next season, without a suspension looming over his head, Almonte should be worry free, which will hopefully help improve upon his plate discipline. Yet, he may still have to worry about playing time, as the Tribe’s outfield will be crowded once again.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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